Archive for September, 2011

Sub-Entity UX

I am part of a team to create a laboratory web app, and I was looking at some old pages I made about a year ago, when I was just starting to be comfortable with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

These pages were basic entities, and were made of a properties panel, a list of sub-entities, and some other stuff here and there. The images in this post are examples of some designs, and are not what we use.

As I learned more and more about user experience, I began to have a better feel for what a web site should look like, and how it should behave. At first, I was making the edit pages to represent as closely as possible how the entity was created in the database. I now understand how wrong this is, because everything should be oriented to give the user the best experience possible.

I noticed that the sub-entity panels (contacts, locations, and deals) were taking too much space – there was real estate reserved for both the sub-entity selection grid, and the properties panel for the selected sub-entity. The grids were crammed with info that could be useful to see quickly, sometimes needing a horizontal scroll bar.

The way I looked at it, it was possible to give the users the same info, but in a better manner. I got rid of the sub-entity properties panel and placed the editable fields in a modal window, in a simpler way. The grid used to select the sub-entity was reconfigured to be easier on the eyes. But best of all, all the info directly related to the entity could be found in the same grid. Also, if the sub-entity had a list of sub-entities itself, it could still be included in the grid.

Clicking an item would popup the modal window, and hovering could show basic info that the user would want to see without going through the popup.

The worst styling part of all this was to decide how to show the info on mouse hover. I came up with some possibilities, all with some flaws. I didn’t find any that was perfect.

End of Line
That was my second favorite. The info box is floating to the right of the whole line. It takes more horizontal space, but every items are visible. If there is a lot of info, the info box for the last few items can go pretty low.

End of Text
Same as the End of Line, but the info box is floating right at the end of the text. This takes less horizontal space, but can partially hide some items in the list. The info box also keeps moving from item to item, which could be irritating.

Below Text
The worst possibility, in my opinion. It doesn’t take much horizontal space, but completely hides the next few items, meaning you can’t hover from item i+1 to item i+n unless you move the cursor away first. This was also visually displeasing, in addition to being confusing (text appears on other text).

Below Text, with Indent
I also disliked this one. Though the items don’t move from left to right between the items, it really hides the next few. They are still hoverable, but unnerving.

Next to Grid
That was my favorite. It takes the most horizontal space, but the info box can always be found at the same place. The only real flaw I can see is that, since the info box is outside the list, the user can’t move the mouse to it without it closing. I don’t know about other people, but I like to move my cursor around the text I am reading. This also makes the text inside the info box unselectable for copy-pasting.

There was also the question about how to show that the line is selected. Should the blue selection box span the whole line, from edge to edge, or only span the text? I think it feels better if the selection is the whole line. Also, as is more apparent in the case of sub-sub-entities, which are indented, should the whole line still be selected, or only from the beginning of the text? I have had a very hard time getting a semantically-correct list-within-a-list to span from the left edge. I think the whole selected line looks pretty good.

Categories: Programming

Dating on internet

Recently, dating on the internet seems to be more and more popular. Odds are that if you ask a couple where they met each other, the answer will be “on the web”. People prefer to stay inside at their computer and see who’s available.




But who am I to judge? I was part of two dating sites. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, just hinting at it. After my last break-up, I decided I would not go back to dating on web sites. It feels too wrong. I’ve got a feeling that people fall into relationships too quickly, without knowing the other person well enough to know that he/she is a person worth living with.


Dating web sites offer that easy path, and list people who openly declare that they are looking for a mate. Most of them are not looking for a friend first, but are looking for a relationship right away, bang into hardships and break-up, and look for someone else. Life is too short! I want to find my soul mate as soon as possible!


Age-Related Issues

But I guess there are differences in why someone goes to web dating. This is how I see how it goes. It’s just a stereotypical opinion – please do not be offended by it.


Young people (like 25 years old or less) might go to these dating sites as an alternative to their other dating quests. Maybe they’re curious too about all the possibilities brought to them by the internet. It’s probably not something they need – they go to school or hop around jobs, and meet a lot of candidates.



Older people (40 years old or more), might go to these sites because they are recently divorced or widowed, and they might not have the time or courage to go through all that manual dating again. It’s either that or staying the rest of their life alone.



On the other hands, older people like me (around 25-40 years old), are there because they are shy or can’t be in a steady relationship. I’m in the first category.



I’ve seen a LOT of weird people there, and a lot of people, very normal people, who, together, bring out some odd statistics. For example, I couldn’t help but notice that many (way too many) women are into horseback riding, or openly say on their profiles that they love horses. Why is the odds of a woman liking horses higher on the dating sites? Are horse-loving ladies having a difficult time finding a boyfriend in real life?


I’ve also seen a lot of people dating on the web who regularly go to the gym. My first hunch would be to assume that they have a hard time finding someone who accepts her repeated lack of presence. I go often to the gym myself, so I hope it’s not that.


Basically, I feel that most people in my age category go to a dating site because they have a problem. We are there because we’re starting to be desperate. Maybe it’s because we are shy, or too picky, or because nobody wants us. Whatever the reason, I wish I wouldn’t need that internet help to find someone…

Categories: Dating

Being Impressive, Quantitatively

tl;dr – If there are 4/5 less people that can do better than you, you start being impressed.


My sister and I have run a marathon in the past, and this year is supposed to be the last for the 42.195km, but I injured my right foot during a 31km training run. I’m going to focus on half-marathons (less chances of injuries), but I began to wonder how I would be perceived by the people around me. My family and friends are impressed about what my sister and I did, but would they be disappointed if I stop, or would they still be impressed?


That led me to start wondering about what exactly makes something impressive. By analyzing some feats, and how I view them, I came up with some interesting concepts. There are hundreds of variables that will give better or worse results at something you do, like genetics, if you have a reason behind it, how well informed you are, and how much dedication it took, but I’ll try to remove as many variables as I can and stick to the most important points here.


How Well Can You Do It? (Did You Even Try?)

Being good at something yourself has a very good impact on how impressed you can be. My marathon time in 2009 was 4:17, and without injury this year, I would have done around 3:45. Based on that, how well should your result be for me to be impressed? If you run a 3:30, I’ll be a little bit impressed. If you run a 3:15, I’ll be really impressed. In 2009, I would have been impressed with a 3:45. My sister’s marathon time was 4:36, and she says she was impressed with my 4:17 (considering how not prepared I was).


How Many People Can Do It?

Something that everyone can do would be difficult to be impressive. I’ve made a quick approximation: if one person over a group of 1000 can do something that you never did, you might be a bit impressed. Another way of seeing it is if less than (roughly) 7 million people on Earth can do it, it’s starting to be impressive.


If you’ve never solved the Rubik’s Cube before, you might be impressed if someone solves it before you. However, I am personally impressed by someone who can speed-solve it in 20 seconds, as my personal record (back when I was practicing) is close to 30 seconds.


If you think about it, these two points could be different views about the exact same thing. They are both dependent on how well you can do it.


How old are you?

I almost removed this point entirely, but I think it’s still an important one that needs to be mentioned. An 80-year-old half-marathoner is more impressive than a marathoner in his prime, because you don’t expect someone at that age to be in shape. A fifteen-year-old able to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is impressive, because it usually takes a lot of time an effort to be that good with the piano, and he’s still very young.


I don’t feel it should be included in the simplified equation, because the amount of time and dedication is roughly the same, and doesn’t depend on age. The old half-marathoner just kept in very good shape and runs year after year. The young pianist started learning at a very young age, but practiced for thousands of hours, like everyone else.


I should mention savants and autistic people, and other people who, by whatever mental or physical reason, can do something better and faster than “normal”, but that’s out of the scope of this post.


Creating the function

First time I tried, I found that if someone does something 1/6 better than you, you start to be impressed, relative to the potential best that can be achieved (world record or anything). That was a naive way to calculate, as I soon found out it only works when “less is better”, like timings. Using this calculation would mean that I would be impressed only by people doing more than 1700 push-ups.


That led me to look at the graphs I had drawn, and notice that the calculations should be based on the standard deviation of the population. In statistics, the standard distribution, also known as “bell curve”, represents a percentage of the population with how well they do.




That being said, if you know where you stand in the standard distribution for a given task, I found that, approximately, if there are four fifths (4/5) less people that can do better than you, you start to be impressed by them.




Not everything can be quantified, but if gives a very good idea. I like to cook, and can make a very decent meal, but I miss once in a while. The group of population made of 4/5 of the best cooks in my group are impressive to me.


It’s hard to put into words. Hopefully, the second graph can give you the best idea. Another (equally failed) way to say it would be that, in the group of population that are better than you at something, you take out the worst fifth, and the rest are impressive.

Categories: Thinking

Dating in a Grocery Store

If you’re single and are grocery shopping, there are several advantages to look around, and I don’t mean looking around at the food.



You’re in a quiet environment, and feel no pressure to be someone other than yourself. You cross a lot of different people of all ages, all of them with their own story. Depending on what aisle you’re in, the smell can relax or excite your brain. Personally, I love vegetables and fruits, and being surrounded by that fresh scent is totally soothing. I’m rarely in a foul mood when I shop for groceries, and I guess that’s very positive, since body language is a very important (and overlooked) point concerning first impressions.


You’re flooded with light, which keeps you wide awake, and you’re not under any influence (at least, you shouldn’t be).




You’re just yourself.



The items in your cart is usually a good indication of how well you eat (that can be an additional incentive to eat better). I’ll be (knowingly or subconsciously) more interested in a woman whose cart looks like mine, than to someone who’s buying several packs of frozen meals. After all, you are what you eat.




So, Why Here?

I don’t know. It feels more natural than trying to find a girlfriend in a bar. Though it never worked for me, I like that thought. You meet people, and buying food for subsistence is a very basic, common, and natural thing to do.


I always look at the people I pass in the eye. That look is almost never shared, and when there is an eye contact, I feel no emotion from the other person. But I continue on my way, and remind myself that it takes only one eye contact to the right person, at the right time, and the right moment… Sometimes, I happen to follow someone from aisle to aisle, but in reverse. That basically gives me more chance to be noticed.



You take your items to the cashier, and say hi. If the person at the cash is smiling / seems to be in a good mood, I can strike a small conversation, otherwise I just keep smiling to myself, and thank her when I leave. Thing is, the people hired to take your money are the same people week after week. I find it easier to speak to someone if you’ve said hi several times in the past, and the small conversation can grow longer and longer (until the point when you have to leave because of the angry shoppers waiting for their turn).


Categories: Dating

Dating in a Bar (part 2)

Second part of my rant about the dating scene, still taking place in a bar.



Another thing I hate about bars is that they’re often very crowded. I don’t know if most people are like me, or if I’m the only one scared that everyone around is judging my every action, but being in a crowded place is unnerving me. I can’t feel at ease when everything I do causes a mental alarm that warns me that people are probably looking at me right now. And judging. Even though I definitely know that it most likely isn’t true. Why would people do that anyway?



Another thing about crowds is that sometimes, there isn’t enough place around yourself. I’m talking about that “personal space”, where if a stranger steps into, you get uncomfortable. Being in that state, combined with a higher concentration of CO2 in the room, could make my facial skin flush / blush, and I could start sweating. Which could easily degenerate into being even less comfortable, and more of that awkward feeling of being judged.





Physical Contact

Which leads to physical contact. It’s usually frowned upon for someone to touch a stranger, however subtle it can be. Crowded or not, I like to keep my skin to myself. That being said, there can be times when being touched by a stranger can feel good, even arousing (iif that stranger is of the opposite sex). A woman dancing close could bump into you, and if these bumps become more frequent, and longer, well, someone like me could feel less “invisible” for a little while. For a change.


I’m aware that alcohol can induce such behavior, and, unfortunately, it probably is the only reason someone would voluntarily and regularly bump into me in such a way. One time, such thing happened to me – until I noticed her boyfriend come back with her drink. She didn’t even notice she was touching me! So I moved out of reach.



Personal rule of thumb, I won’t move back unless I have a reason to. Like if I notice she’s squeezed between me and someone else, and she’s looking at me with angry eyes. I won’t move forward either, mind you. I would consider that rude and too forward.


Eye Contact

Something that’s really troubling me is the eye contact. When I walk on the street, in the mall, or wherever else, I look at people I cross in the eye. The eye contact is very rarely made, as if people were afraid or uninterested to know me. When there is eye contact, there is usually a hello, or at least a nod. I wasn’t like that before, but I like it when such a tiny conversation is exchanged between two people who most likely will never meet again.


Thing is, the eye contact is very different in a bar setting. I can’t approach a girl without first having a visual contact with her. You can tell a lot by the way someone looks at you, and one of these things is if she’ll downright reject you if you come to her. When I look around in a bar, I see nobody looking back at me. People look at the people they are with, and glance around themselves once in a while, but I have received more casual contact from men than from women. Are men less afraid to look? Is it because women are confident that men will come to them, and they don’t feel the need to look around?





I don’t dance, end of story. I am very down-to-earth, and feel absolutely no impulse to throw my hands in the air, and move my body to the sound of some dance music with too much low-frequencies. People look like they have fun when dancing, though. I just know I don’t. That’s possibly because of my fear-of-judging thing… So I stay at the bar or some table, and look at whatever is interesting to look at around me.



Temporary Conclusion

This concludes my rant about dating in a bar. I’ve talked about my views for several things, and I could have gone on about the lack of lighting, the risk of someone drinking too much (possibly leading to a bar fight), the extremely overpriced drinks and the tips that go with them, the tip you feel obliged to give to the lady who gets your coat and hangs it (tough job!), and even the suspicious dude in the toilet who’s there to help you wash your hands and give you some kind of perfume or whatnot.


My point is, the number-one dating scene is seriously flawed, from a logical and practical point of view.


But that’s probably just me…

Categories: Dating